By Genevieve Hack, BSc Development Economics
The Taliban have ordered women across Afghanistan to stop attending higher educational institutions with immediate effect, in its latest step to restrict the freedoms of Afghan women. The announcement has made Afghanistan the only country in the world where girls and women are denied access to education.
On 20th December 2022, the Minister of Higher Education, Neda Mohamed Nadeem, ordered the indefinite ban in a letter addressed to all government and private universities, ‘you are all informed to implement the mentioned order of suspending education of females until further notice’. This latest announcement follows the ban of teenage girls from secondary education in March 2022; the right to an education for women is becoming increasingly strained.
The Taliban regained control of Afghanistan in the summer of 2021, two decades after being removed by a US-led military coalition. The Taliban finalised its control over the nation after seizing the capital, Kabul, on the 15th of August. As a result, the government collapsed, and President Ghani fled the country. The conflict in Afghanistan saw the breach of several international humanitarian laws. According to Amnesty International, ‘human rights defenders, women’s activists, journalists, health and humanitarian workers, and religious and ethnic minorities were among those targeted by the Taliban and non-state actors.’
Before the takeover, women and girls already endured gender-based discrimination and violence, which only worsened following the implementation of the Taliban’s policies. The refusal of education for girls and women across the nation is just one example of the many infringements of their human rights. Many women were dismissed from their jobs under the guise of ‘ensuring their safety’ according to a Taliban spokesperson. According to Geneva Solutions, fears of sexual and gender-based violence skyrocketed following the closure of several support mechanisms for women, in particular women’s shelters, which provided a valuable refuge for women escaping domestic abuse, sexual violence and forced marriages. Moreover, on the 29th October, a Taliban spokesperson said that LGBTI rights would not be recognised under Sharia law, marking the continuation of the criminalisation of consensual same-sex relations.
“Removing access to education for women not only marks a clear disregard of human rights but also represents an attack on the future of women”
Removing access to education for women not only marks a clear disregard of human rights but also represents an attack on the future of women. Education was used as a tool by Afghan women for the development of their ambition and power. In the absence of this, many women are left stranded, afraid, and in fear of what their future holds. Meena, a 52-year-old lecturer in Afghanistan claimed this decision is “now killing the future of my students”. A journalism student, Madina, epitomises the view of many female Afghan students in her harrowing remark. “They buried our dreams”.
The actions of the Taliban have been met with an international response, at both a personal and institutional level. The UN tweeted, ‘A door closed to women’s education is a door closed on the future of Afghanistan.’ The Taliban have responded to these criticisms, in which Taliban officials are claiming that the secondary education ban is only temporary.
This is not to say that the women of Afghanistan have remained silent. The policies recently imposed by the Taliban have been met with several protests and walkouts, in solidarity with the girls and women who have lost their right to an education. Across several days in late December, women have taken to the streets with banners and slogans that voice their outrage and concern regarding Taliban rule. The protests have been understood to have taken place in the Takhar province of Kabul. Several women involved have told the BBC that they were beaten or arrested by Taliban officers.
The recent protests exhibit the strength of Afghan women in the face of oppressive Taliban rule. While the loss of education is symbolic of a dwindling sense of freedom, the power and energy of women both in Afghanistan and across the globe are continuing to resist the efforts made against their rights.
Photo Caption: Kuchi girls inside a village school in Jalalabad, Afghanistan (Credit: Creative Commons).